03/11/2004 1:00AM

Is Northern Baquero for real? See Preview


PORTLAND, Ore. - It is beginning to look as though Northern Baquero's half-length victory over the heavily favored Mythical Road in last month's 1 1/16-mile McFadden Memorial was the best thing that could have happened to the local 3-year-old set.

Until the McFadden, which drew just seven starters, the 3-year-old division was wearing decidedly thin. After Northern Baquero won that race at 15-1, the drought turned into a flood, and no fewer than 19 3-year-olds were nominated for Saturday's renewal of the Preview Stakes and a full field of 12 was entered.

It was as though horsemen felt that if Northern Baquero could win a local stakes, anybody could. After all, Northern Baquero, a son of Baquero and the Northern Jove matron Northern Defender, was coming off a nonthreatening third to $8,000 claimers at six furlongs when he upset the applecart in the McFadden. It had to be a fluke.

But was it? Mythical Road basically ran his race in the McFadden, recording the second-highest Beyer Speed Figure of his nine-race career. The same was true of second choice Might E Man, who finished third. Isn't it possible that Northern Baquero simply "got good" at the right time, and that he is now the best horse in the division?

"I guess we'll find out the answer to that question on Saturday," noted Eulia Bischoff, who trains Northern Baquero for owners Dave and Pam Woods. "I was as surprised as anyone when he won the McFadden, but he did train very well coming into that race, and he has trained even better since then. He is all pumped up now. He thinks he is special. That happens to a lot of horses after they win, but he never acted like this after he won his maiden race."

The other thing to remember is that Northern Baquero was trying two turns for the first time in the McFadden, and he is bred for distance. His sire, Baquero, tried two turns only once, setting the pace before tiring in the 1998 Preakness. Baquero is by Kentucky Derby runner-up Forty Niner.

Baquero's first crop to race, of which Northern Baquero is a member, has already shown an affinity for route racing. His dam was unplaced in nine starts, but she is by a sire noted for stamina and her dam, In Your Defense, won the 1979 Bay Meadows Oaks at 1 1/16 miles.

"I definitely think routing is going to be his thing, and I thought that even before he won the stakes," said Bischoff. "The way he trains, he'll be better the farther he goes."

If that proves to be the case, Northern Baquero could be sitting pretty for the rest of the meeting. What Saturday's 1 1/16-mile Preview Stakes is a preview of, of course, is the $20,000 Oregon Derby on April 3, and the Derby will be run at 1 1/8 miles.

Hard to figure Dig That Rhythm

Handicappers might not know quite what to make of Santa Anita invader Dig That Rhythm when he runs at Portland Meadows in the near future, and they won't be alone. Trainer Nick Lowe feels the same way. He was so high on Dig That Rhythm before this meeting began that he sent him to Southern California trainer Gary Mandella, and Mandella was so high on him that he ran him in three straight maiden special weight races at Santa Anita. Unfortunately, he finished far up the track in all three of those outings.

"He really has us puzzled," said Lowe. "We both thought he had a lot of talent, but he just hasn't shown it in his races. Mandella sent him back to me to try to figure him out, and that's what I'm trying to do now. Mandella thinks maybe he needs to be gelded, but I'd like to give him one more chance before I take that step."

Wagering bill goes to governor

A bill that would legalize advance deposit wagering, which is favored by the Washington Thoroughbred industry, passed its final legislative hurdle Tuesday, just two days before the session was scheduled to end. The state Senate approved amendments added by the House by a vote of 42-7. Substitute Senate Bill 6481 now goes to Gov. Gary Locke, who is expected to sign it into law within 30 days.

The bill legalizes advance deposit wagering in Washington. It also allows satellite sites to offer full-card simulcast wagering, and it removes the restrictions on the hours per day and days per week that parimutuel wagering can be conducted.

* The Washington Horse Racing Commission liberalized rules governing exotic wagering at its meeting in Auburn on Thursday. The number of betting interests required for trifecta wagering was lowered from six to three, and the number required for superfecta wagering was lowered from eight to four. In addition, it will now require two same-owner entries before trifecta and superfecta wagering can be prohibited on a race, and even that restriction can be waived with the consent of the commission's executive secretary.